When I was 10 or 11 years old, our family spent many Sunday afternoons skating at the local ice rink. My sister, brother and I took lessons, and then we would skate during the public skate.
While my siblings skated and chatted with their friends, I circled the ice looking for black flies, helpless, frozen on the ice. I would pick one up in my mitts, enclose it in warmth, and breathe a little warm air into its temporary cave. After a few minutes, I opened my mitts and it would fly away.
“What’s the point?” I heard. “With millions of black flies, you’re not really making a difference.”
When someone I knew was being picked on, I felt torn between wanting to help and feeling my own insecurity and need to fit in. Any words that escaped my tightly gripped lips were jumbled in emotions of nervousness, self-consciousness, and pleading to be nice.
I was frozen, a small fly in a big world.
And yet, when I skated alone on the ice, surrounded by children enjoying themselves and smiling, I could pick up a lone cold fly, and with a gentle touch and breath, bring it to life. When I wasn’t surrounded by school yard expectations, I found clarity in this small task.
I still felt helpless on the playground. However, growing up I discovered I could make a difference to others. I could help them with small gestures or a gentle touch. This became important in my first few jobs. A smile to restaurant patrons. An extra minute with a lone child at the community center. I may not have been effective on the playground. “Effective” felt momentous to that 11 year old. I wish I knew then what I know now.
What have I learned?
1. Small steps can make the greatest difference. It only takes one step.
2. Changing another person’s day only takes a moment. If we all took a moment to stop and help, imagine how we’d all feel at the end of the day.
3. Those that don’t smile back, or acknowledge the gesture, probably need it the most.
4. If I didn’t make an effort, or take a moment to smile, it would probably go unnoticed in the hundreds of tasks we do, or in the dozens of people we pass by each day. So we lose nothing, whether we try to make someone else’s day or not.
5. If I had known how simple yet transformative a smile could be, I may have shared more smiles on the playground when I was young. A person feeling uncertain in a situation might feel better receiving a smile.
In giving a smile, it isn’t about me. It is about how I’ve left others feeling. We each have a responsibility to do what we can for others. Often, it comes back to us anyways, as good karma tends to do.
6. Sometimes the kooky things children do (like picking up flies) have a purpose, as they sort out how the world works.
What small gesture do you enjoy sharing with others?
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